still

My friend Connor was finished with his semester and on summer break.  We made plans to get together last night.  After having dinner, there was still more in the way of catching up that we wanted to do.  So we took a drive to the ocean, arriving just before 10:00 PM.  Though it had been chilly and wet for days prior, this day had been a ten, and the beach was perfect.  We wore shorts and light hoodies as we trekked up the sand dunes and then navigated our way across the several strands of smooth, loose rocks to the water’s edge.  No one else was on the beach itself, though up a ways into one dune, a small group of what looked like celebrating college students was gathered around a bonfire.  We could not hear their voices, only the rhythmical surge of the waves underscored by the steady breeze.

At one point, as I was looking down to maneuver between a scatter of stones, there was a familiar sparkle where I had scuffed my foot.  It disappeared so quickly that someone else might have doubted they’d seen it at all.   But I knew what it was.  I crouched quickly and invited my friend to do the same.  “Look!”  I ran my fingertips lightly over the dark, wet sand and, as if by magic, a sparse trail of green scintillation followed, then dissipated instantly.  “Did you see that?”

“Woah!  What is that?” he asked, in a voice more boy than man.  I love when I get the opportunity to introduce someone to a completely new experience.

“It’s phosphorescent algae,” I replied, swiping my hand again with the same result.  He joined me, making trails of his own.  “I’m surprised to see it so early in the year,” I continued.  “It’s normally a September thing.  Wow!  Did you see that one?”

After a few more spells, we stood, rubbing the sand from our fingertips as we continued walking.  “There’s just something about the sound of the ocean at night, when everything else is quiet,” I said, almost sleepily.  But I wasn’t sleepy.  I was peaceful.  “It’s hard to explain,” I continued, “but it feels like … like it’s reaching in with every wave, sanding my soul clean until it’s like polished glass.”  (I actually felt and said this; I’m not just trying to be poetic for print!)

“For me, it’s the wind,” Connor said.  His voice had a faraway quality to it.

We talked of many things as we walked along together – life and dreams and what really matters.  And sometimes, we just listened.  These times empty me.  And fill me.

While not everyone can escape for a midnight walk on the beach, I believe we can all cultivate times of stillness – solitude, quietness, “away-ness” – into our lives.  Truly, I think we must, if we are to be whole and healthy people.  For these are the times when the urgent gets separated from the important.  When we allow our thoughts to speak.  When we get honest about ourselves.  When we see possibility.

In today’s mile-a-minute world, times of silence can be uncomfortable at first.  Awkward.  Even painful.  But stillness strips away the illusions that busyness affords us.  Stillness is an accurate mirror of who we are.  Stillness tells the truth.

And coming to terms with the truth about ourselves is the only way we change, allowing us to become the person we want to be, instead of merely the person we tell ourselves we are when the pace is too fast to notice the difference.

Whether you are a Fortune 500 businessman or a mother of young children, making times for stillness in your life is crucial.  If you look at your schedule and just don’t see how to make it work, then you are all the more in need of it!  Tell yourself, “I am actually going to be a better [employee, teacher, parent, student] if I do this.”  And then do it.  Schedule it in if you must.  Find someone who believes in you to help you make it work.  But do it.

Soon, if we will choose to embrace it, stillness will no longer be something we dread but something we crave.  It renews.  It compliments.  It challenges our creativity.  It reminds us of what really matters in life.  Already a truthful counselor, stillness now becomes an invaluable friend.

How will you set aside time for stillness this week?

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